They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. That was me for years. I grew up defined by shame, by a sense of being not good enough.
When we experience pain in our childhood (mine was the suicide of my father when I was five), it’s hard to know what to do with the pain and the shame. Sometimes we use food or alcohol or overspending to numb what’s going on inside. I found a different, less obvious place to hide – Christian ministry.
I believed that if I could be the ‘perfect’ Christian then God would always love me. That worked … until it didn’t anymore. When I was too tired to keep trying to be good enough, that was when I began to understand that it had never been about me being good enough, it’s always been about Christ and the work he finished on the cross.
Now, I’d love to say that once I began to understand that I never struggled again. That’s not my story and I’m pretty sure it’s not the experience of any honest believer. The liberating truth of our calling to love Jesus with everything we have and are, is that we get to start again, and again, and again.
When we place the focus on our failures, we miss out on the gift of grace. Grace is love that stoops, that reaches down to where we are, that invites us to come as we are. When we shift our focus from ourselves onto Jesus, we live in his love not in our own struggles. I used to pursue perfection and it nearly killed me. Now I pursue Christ, who is perfect.
At times, Christians can be the least transparent, open, vulnerable people on the planet. I know that the following scenario happens a lot. Driving to church you have the worst argument you’ve ever had with your husband. Then you get to church and the greeter at the door asks, “How are you doing?” You answer, “If I was any closer to Jesus, I’d be flying!”
I think we have misunderstood the Gospel. We view the love and mercy of Christ through our western lens, our own cultural perspective. We want to put on a good face so that no one thinks less of us, forgetting that we’re not the good news, Jesus is. We drag our baggage into church and then drag it back home.
Christ offers a better way:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28–30, The Message).
Start to change your thinking today
• Have a gut-level, honest conversation with God. Don’t edit yourself. Let it all out. If you’re angry with God, tell him you’re angry. If you’re disappointed, tell him. God is big enough to handle all of who we are.
• Then sit with this truth for a while: As I am, right now, I am seen and loved by my Father. I’m not a failure, I’m a child of God.
- Sheila Walsh’s latest book It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: Moving Forward One Day at a Time is published by Baker Books (ISBN 978 0 8010 7801 9) price £8.99.